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87th annual Waa-Mu show to celebrate the origins of musical theater

‘Manhattan Miracle’ runs May 4 to 13 at Cahn Auditorium

A video sneak preview of the 87th annual Waa-Mu show "Manhattan Miracle"

EVANSTON - The annual extravaganza that Associated Press calls the “greatest college show in America” mines the origins of musical theater when the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University co-presents the latest edition of the Waa-Mu Show, a musical entirely written by students.

The 87th annual Waa-Mu Show, “Manhattan Miracle,” will run May 4 to 13 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., on the Evanston campus.

The story opens in late 19th century New York. Days before opening, a failing melodrama finds itself in need of an overhaul. Simultaneously, a Parisian ballet troupe is left without a theater in the wake of a devastating fire. Racing against the clock and praying for a miracle, the troupes decide to combine their talents and create a new show with song, dance and drama. Against all odds, the ragtag group of artists learns to work together and create not only the very first American musical, but also a spectacular hit.

The Waa-Mu musical is written, composed, choreographed and co-produced by more than 100 Northwestern students. Undergraduate student co-chairs Maxwell Beer, Sarah Ohlson, Andrew Restieri, Kaja Burke-Williams -- all Northwestern seniors -- lead the 2018 production under artistic director David H. Bell.  A Northwestern professor of musical theater in the School of Communication, Bell is an award-winning professional director who has worked extensively around the world. The production is directed by Stephen Schellhardt.

"Waa-Mu allows young writers to flex their muscles with resources they've never had before. We are so excited by our writing mentors this year, some of whom include Craig Carnelia, Ryan Cunningham and Cheryl Coons," said Waa-Mu Show co-chair Sarah Ohlson.

The Waa-Mu Show began in 1929 when the Women’s Athletic Association (W.A.A.) joined forces with the Men’s Union (M.U.) in a performance of original, student-written material. The show was traditionally a musical revue, consisting of Northwestern-inspired vignettes tied together by a theme. However, over the last five years, the Waa-Mu Show has evolved into an original full-length musical. 

Waa-Mu's pre-professional environment has been an incubator for young theatrical superstars throughout its history. Past cast members include Walter Kerr in the 1930s; Claude Akins, Sheldon Harnick, Cloris Leachman, Paul Lynde, Charlotte Rae and Tony Randall in the 1940s; Warren Beatty, Penny Fuller and Garry Marshall in the 1950s; Karen Black, Frank Galati, Ann-Margret and Tony Roberts in the 1960s; Laura Innes and Shelley Long in the 1970s; Gregg Edelman, Ana Gasteyer and Megan Mullally in the 1980s; Zach Braff, Brian d'Arcy James, Heather Headley, Jason Moore and Kate Shindle in the 1990s; and more recently, Jenny Powers.

Performances of “Manhattan Miracle” are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. A 2 p.m. matinee performance will be presented Saturday, May 12.

Related Events:

Waa-Mu Sneak Peek Event

Wednesday, March 7, 5 p.m.
Hal & Martha Hyer Wallis Theater
1949 Campus Drive, Evanston

The Waa-Mu Show’s artistic director David Bell hosts a behind the scenes preview of the collaborative process of creating this year's show, “Manhattan Miracle.”

The cast of “Manhattan Miracle” will preview songs from the show and reveal what it takes to write an all-new musical in just one year. Light refreshments will be provided.

The event is free and open to the public. Online reservations are required.

Wee-Mu 2018

Saturday, May 12, 11 a.m.
Cahn Auditorium
600 Emerson St., Evanston

Back by popular demand, Imagine U and The Waa-Mu Show present Wee-Mu 2018. Award-winning Northwestern faculty member Ryan T. Nelson and company members will lead young audiences through the process of creating “Manhattan Miracle.” This playful and fun-filled hour at Cahn Auditorium is geared toward 5 to 13 year olds and their families and will feature hands-on demonstrations about musical instruments, choreography and singing.

Tickets are $5 and are available online.  

Tickets to the 87th annual Waa-Mu Show “Manhattan Miracle” and are on sale now. Single ticket prices for this production are $25-$30 general admission; $22 for seniors (62+) and area educators; $20 for Northwestern faculty, staff and emeriti faculty; $10 for full-time students and $6 in advance/$10 at the door for Northwestern students.

Tickets are available online, by phone at 847-491-7282 or at the box office located in the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.

Box office hours are Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m.

For information, visit the Wirtz Center website.

The Wirtz Center and The Waa-Mu Show are members of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theater, dance and visual arts. 

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